The teachings of Krishnamacharya and Desikachar around Yoga practice were far more complex than is often presumed from the popular perception, often formed from the more well publicised work of some of Krishnamacharya’s early students.
My own experiences with Desikachar, developed over repeated study visits to Madras over two decades, may offer an insight into the practice possibilities that I became increasingly exposed to. As with many, being introduced to this tradition meant that Āsana was the starting point for our Bahya Aṅga Sādhana.
Here, as a student in their 30’s with only some 5 years exposure to Āsana practice, one explored Āsana starting with the primary Āsana to ascertain general mobility, individual characteristics in terms of asymmetrical differences, or imbalances and core strength and stamina.
From here an increasing number and wider range of Āsana were introduced, according to the students potential, along with their developmental interest and time and energy to devote to this element of practice.
It is at this point we could make an analogy of this experience to that of starting a family with Āsana being the first borne. However, in this family its the first of a number of children yet to arrive.
Also the experience gained from that first ‘child’ feeds into future arrivals, along with the emerging of other issues we have to contend with, such as the impact on our time, energy and priorities around additional commitments.
This is how it is with Āsana, in that after settling into a rhythm with this first family member we are exposed to further practice tools and dealing with their arrival in terms of adding and integrating them into our existing practice.
My teacher introduced and added to my practices the tools of Kriyā, Mudrā and Prāṇāyāma. So in a relatively short time there were four aspects to integrate.
From here, once my competence with the length and stamina with all the four components of my breath reached a certain level, the practice of Bandha was added to the existing practices of Āsana and especially Mudrā and Prāṇāyāma.
These five tools of Kriyā, Āsana, Mudrā, Prāṇāyāma and Bandha sort of completed the Haṭha aspect of my practice. Now the issue was how to devote time to see that none were neglected, not an easy commitment with any increasing family.
However, from the practice viewpoint of this tradition this was only a starting point to prepare the outer for the inner rigours yet to come.
As Krishnamacharya said:
“What good is the sword of wisdom (Jñāna Asinā),
to cut away the chains of illusion (Avidyā),
if the holder is too weak to bear it.”
This Bahya Aṅga Sādhana with Haṭha Yoga prepared the ground for other practices drawn more from the fields of Rāja Yoga and Bhakti Yoga in terms of Dhyānam, or the formal practice of meditation.
This journey into Antar Aṅga Sādhana began with the formal embracing of the practice of Adhyayanam or the formal practice of chanting. Though here the family analogy involved the arrival of twins in that there were two side by side dimensions to the practice of Adhyayanam.
Because I was determined to study all aspects of chanting as practiced in this tradition, my study and practice of chanting had to integrate and develop two parallel threads.
One was the practice of Jñāna Adhyayanam or the chanting of the Yoga Sūtra as a tool for self-inquiry into the nature of what is what we call mind, as in psychology.
The other thread was the practice of Bhakti Adhyayanam or the chanting of the Veda as a tool for devotional merging into that which is the source of the sound.
Even they may ‘sound’ somewhat the same under the generic banner of chanting, they were in reality very different practices and were never taught to me together within the same lesson.
From an ongoing personal practice perspective I also found they required different contexts when it came to giving time to their development and refinement to reach a point where there was self-autonomy in terms of competence and especially the ability to self monitor my practice.
As this relationship with the ever-increasing family progressed over the years, my lessons within my many return visits to study with Desikachar moved ever deeper from Bahya Aṅga into Antar Aṅga.
Here the next arrival in this process of interiorisation was the exploration, within the privacy of our one to one lessons, of a formal commitment and initiation into the practice of Dhyāna or seated meditation. Again the introduction and development of a personalised practice took place over several years, again to reach a point of self-autonomy.
Thus what started as a single practice of Āsana grew over the decades into a complex family structure with many aspects and as the reader can see there are many more possibilities than are seen within the general group class Āsana based environment.
To summarise, the practice tools included Kriyā, Āsana, Prāṇāyāma, Mudrā, Bandha, Jñāna Adhyayanam, Bhakti Adhyayanam and Dhyānam. This is the strength, depth and potential of Krishnamacharya’s teachings around practice Sādhana.
Of course in addition to, and alongside this, there is also the process of formal textual study and here there was also a Vinyāsa Krama, but that is a subject for another post.